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Neil Simon classic guarantees laughs

The romantic comedy Barefoot in the Park arrives Thursday at the Richey Suncoast Theatre for a three-weekend run.

By BARBARA L. FREDRICKSEN

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 23, 2001


If you want to fill a theater with people and with laughter, schedule a Neil Simon comedy -- any Neil Simon comedy. They are guaranteed audience-pleasers, with characters full of angst and witty, quick dialogue.

Simon's 1964 comedy, Barefoot in the Park, opening for a three-weekend run on Thursday, is no exception.

The show ran for ages on Broadway and in 1967 was made into a movie starring Robert Redford and Jane Fonda.

In it, Corrie and Paul Bratter (Hilary Caron and Ian Jurgensen) have just returned from their six-day honeymoon and moved into a tiny apartment on the fifth floor of a building with no elevator. She is disorganized and romantic; he is well-organized and stuffy. Corrie wants Paul to loosen up a bit -- go barefoot in the park, even if it's freezing, for instance -- and Paul wants Corrie to get real.

"As always, (Simon) manages to convey the happiness, tenderness, the confusing adjustments and the discoveries with which people in different stages of life are confronted," said Diana Forgione, who founded and directed the Avenue Players and is directing her first play at Richey Suncoast Theatre.

The young newlyweds' upstairs neighbor, the eccentric gourmet Victor Velasco (Bill Sutschek), interrupts their quarreling from time to time because he must sneak through their apartment to get to his rooftop home that has been padlocked because he hasn't paid his rent.

Corrie's mom, Mrs. Banks (Jennie Ashley) climbs the five flights of stairs to make a visit, as do a telephone repairman (Willem F. Nichols) and deliveryman (Larry Franz), all arriving frazzled and exhausted.

"As director, I look for all the secrets inherent in a script as written by a master, a joyful task," Ms. Forgione said. She is especially pleased with her cast and how the show has come together.

"I get everybody to this point -- off book, blocking completed -- and after that, we pull the whole thing apart and find whatever needs fixing and work it out," Ms. Forgione said nine days before opening night.

As for the actors, "they are such a delight, so inventive and so exciting to work with," she said.

Jurgensen, a student at Mitchell High School, comes from a theater family. Both his grandmother and his grandfather headed university theater departments in North Carolina, and his father is an entertainer.

Ms. Caron, a National Honor Society and varsity swim team member who studies drama at Hudson High, says she sees her character, Corrie, "as a rather scatterbrained, moody woman who knows exactly what she wants out of life but has trouble making other people see it her way."

Sutschek, an experienced actor and director, played the role of the bridegroom Paul 25 years ago and says he is having a lot of fun in the role of the flamboyant Victor. He has played in such varied vehicles as Streetcar Named Desire, Guys and Dolls and The Fantasticks. He has directed Teahouse of the August Moon, Bye Bye Birdie and She Loves Me, among other productions.

Ms. Ashley, who plays Corrie's mother, is a recent transplant from Michigan and is a dancer and actor. She has played summer stock and performed with several community theaters in the Dearborn area. She now teaches reading and Spanish at Hudson Middle School.

"Working with a cast and crew as witty, cooperative, sharp and fun as this cast is makes me remember why I have always loved the theater as much as I do," Ms. Forgione said.

At a glance

WHAT: Barefoot in the Park

WHERE: Richey Suncoast Theatre, 6237 Grand Blvd., New Port Richey

WHEN: Thursday and on weekends through March 18. Performances at 8 p.m., except Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

TICKETS: $8 for adults, $4 for students. Box office is open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays and an hour before each show. Call (727) 842-6777.

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